The Cher Show – Birmingham Hippodrome

Reviewer: John Kennedy

Book: Rick Elice

Director: Arlene Phillips

For those of a mature, reflective socio-dynamic perspective, there will be fond memories of those adorable USA hippies twinkling through the Top Of The Pops BBC’s 405 lines plighting their eternal troth with, I Got You Babe underscored by its definitive melodic ‘babah-babah-babha’ refrain on the ocarina or maybe oboe? Best not go there – social-media nightmare.

The San Francisco Summer of Love inevitably wilted into a winter of discontent when the Haight Ashbury hippy aesthetic turned hate catastrophe with the horrors of Charles Manson and the later chaos of Hells’ Angels murder and mayhem at Altamont.

But none of that for this, the evergreen Helen of Joy – the face (allegedly) that launched a thousand facial tuck and snips. She’s the mercurial phoenix, savvy enough to lock-on-to-the-milieu-of-the moment. Cherilyn Sarkisian’s insatiable conviction defies the childhood taunts and insults of ‘Half-Breed’. Caterpillar to butterfly, Cherilyn becomes Cher and The Future is about to get a serious kicking.

In the hyper, outré-lustre construct that is Planet Cher reincarnation sensationalism, it’s much less fashion statement – more an ever-morphing oratory in the arcane ephemera of ultimate en-vogue reinvention. She likes dressing up a bit and a song or two. The latter’s lyrics become a dramatised reveal as the show progresses: Bang Bang being the most explicit, if not most subtle.

Subtle this show is not and neither should it need to be. The astonishing hi-tec/octane pace required to cover a medley of some thirty songs barely lets up – apart from the predictable life-affirming moments of introspection/‘I’ll make my dream come true,’ etc variety.

This shameless, celebratory hagiography is a supercharged kitsch and tell-all, athough the possibility of her having endorsement of the final script has it less warts n’ all, more beauty-spot. Who knows?

The plot is sturdy enough in exposition, its chronological narrative arc exploiting an intriguing conceit of casting two supporting all-singing/dancing avatar alter egos of childhood and teenage years, thus enabling flashbacks and juxtaposed, reflective interrogations to flesh-out grown-up Cher’s character development and persona apotheosis to meta-star status. The programme references She/Her -STAR, just in case there’s any confusion. If the symbolism of the above isn’t sufficient, the slick, chic use of black mirrors on wheels underscores the symbolism just some more.

Ever keen to make compromises in her favour and ruthless in ambition, our heroine never takes her eyes off the ball. Having enough of being poor as church mice and only pumpkin for dinner, she inevitably drives a stagecoach through the showbiz chauvinist glass ceiling to become the Cinderella of TV, cinema and ultimate divine diva of disco-glamour and glitter glitz-geist. Her iconic mentor, Sonny Bono soon transitions from hippy chic to antithetical bread-head control freak. No surprise in later years he moves to politics.

Debbie Kurup, as principal Cher, is magnificently cast, statuesque, sublime and assertive, her singing voice has a throaty confidence, range and projection hitting all the right notes in all the right places – often between the awe-struck front row punter’s eye. Her amanuensis, lover and eventual embezzling nemesis, Sonny, has Lucas Rush sporting the stereotypical Mexican Bandit moustache and obligatory pudding-basin/bath coiffure as with The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield et al. Best not to think of Bill Oddie.

The ensemble song and dance troupe are seriously troupers in the truest of traditions. Agile, synchronised, near note-perfect in the rousing chorus set-pieces, so sharp on their cues and coordination, they could cut themselves. Turn Back Time has them gyrating in tight tandem and sailor caps camper than a Boy Scouts’ World Jamboree.

So tuck in to a multi-tier, have your cake and eat it, with a cherry-eating fairy on top. An outrageously, ego-stroking, giddy dose of celebration and shameless escapism – what’s not to like? Not so much eye-candy as Charlie (of the naughty, nose variety) and all-out, total Chocolate Factory saccharine sweet, endorphins overload.

Runs Until 6 August and on tour

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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